"Even the best of human love is filled with self-seeking." (Richard Rohr's Meditations - Dorothy Day: Crying Out for Justice - Wednesday, 28.10.2015)
As part of a series of ongoing communications between Vincent and myself, he offered the following quote from one of David Hume's, "Selected Essays" on the question of love. In the essay Hume considers the commonly held belief that selfishness is our basic condition.
"All is self-love. Your children are loved only because they are yours: your friend for a like reason; and your country engages you only so far as it has a connection with yourself. Were the idea of self removed, nothing would affect you: you would be altogether unactive and insensible: or, if you ever give yourself any movement, it would only be from vanity, and a desire of fame and reputation to this same self."
But Hume then turns this master-myth around by making the counterintuitive and wonderfully ennobling point that vanity is proof of virtue rather than vice — a natural expression of how highly we value the qualities that make a person lovable, admirable, and a worthy member of society. He writes:
"There are two things which have led astray those philosophers that have insisted so much on the selfishness of man. In the first place, they found that every act of virtue or friendship was attended with a secret pleasure; whence they concluded, that friendship and virtue could not be disinterested. But the fallacy of this is obvious. The virtuous sentiment or passion produces the pleasure, and does not arise from it. I feel a pleasure in doing good to my friend, because I love him; but do not love him for the sake of that pleasure."
The second thing to which Hume refers falls outside the scope of this post, and is not, therefore, quoted here. I am very inclined to the view, as is Vincent I believe, that David Hume is correct. But how can I be certain about the correctness of that conclusion? How do I choose between these apparently opposing views? In the end I can only decide the issue based on my own life's experiences.
It must be well known by regular readers of Gwynt that many years ago I felt obliged, in the cause of restoring by spiritual sanity, to seek help after three years of living with a very sick alcoholic. I entered a treatment centre. There have been times since then that I have asked myself the question, "Why did I do that? Why did I subject myself to that very painful process of psycho-spiritual recovery?" I must add, and that right hastily, that I have never doubted the rightness of that decision. Nevertheless, the questions remain, even though I have offered many a possible answer to those questions.
During my six-and-a-half weeks in that centre I did as was suggested by my counsellors, even though on occasion I looked askance as some of their suggestions, and even rebelled against one suggestion. All the time I was there I took it on trust that these people knew what they were talking about, and had acquired spiritual wisdom that I, without realising it, was subconsciously seeking. Like so much of my life, I have always felt that I was being led to an inevitable conclusion. Now that may sound odd to many, but that is the only description I can offer for the sense that all doors were being closed to me, leaving just the one I eventually entered. Of course, there was always an element of choice, but the alternative to the choice I actually made was, and has always remained, unacceptable.
Over the time that has passed since that decision to walk the path of recovery, I have learned through experience that there is a part of me that is not egoistic, is not of the lower self as it has been named. There is another and higher aspect to our being, whatever we may choose to call it in our stumbling attempts to describe its presence. It is that, which one writer has described as that which calls to us from the future. It is a blueprint for wholeness; and C.G.Jung has named the archetype for wholeness by the single word, God.
Whilst I do not doubt that actions dominated by my lower, egoistic self may always have an element of selfishness attached, there will always remain a part of me, a non-egoistic self, that knows of actions that are carried out from a sense of non-selfish love. St. Ignatius Loyola prayed:
"Teach us, good Lord,
to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not to count the cost;
to fight and not to heed the wounds;
to toil and not to seek for rest;
to labour and not to ask for any reward,
save that of knowing that we do your will."
This was written by a soldier, and filled with meaning that a dedicated soldier would understand. Yet when this was pointed out to me, I was filled with a sense of deep loss that demanded I probe deeper. As I let this prayer, and its undisputed (by me) origins and its sometimes twisted outcomes sink into my soul, I began to be filled with a joy of discovery. For this prayer describes completely the ethos of my pilgrimage through life. As Vincent has pointed out, there is mystical experience. One could speculate as to its origins or meaning. Or one could simply enjoy it.
That is my experience of love and life. By that I stand.